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Pursuing the Gospel & Racial Reconciliation

September 08 2016
September 08 2016

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generalassembly At this year’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), an important step was taken to promote racial reconciliation among our churches and to repent of the racism of the past.

The relevance of such action is all the more poignant in light of the tragic shootings occurring this summer in several major cities — Baton Rouge, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Dallas Milwaukie and Orlando. Indeed, such things provide a painful reminder that our nation has not yet resolved its history of racial prejudice and injustice. While there has been progress, we are still a long way from realizing that vision of shalom immortalized by the words of the late Martin Luther King, Jr.,

"I have a dream that one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."

As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is important to remember that the vision which Rev. King and his followers both cherished and courageously sought arises directly from the pages of the New Testament and is a consequence of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. As Evangelicals, we sometimes think that God’s reconciling mission has merely a vertical dimension—that between God and his wayward image bearers being redeemed by the blood of Jesus. While this truth may be what is most important about the Gospel’s reconciling work, it fails to exhaust its depths or envision its reach.

From the very beginning of the Gospel’s unfolding story, God’s grace, revealed to Abraham, had a corporate target. Abraham and the nation of Israel, which came forth from him, were to be servants to God’s reconciliation of the nations (cf. Gen. 12:1-3). On account of sin, their mission failed. It was discovered that the nation of Israel needed redemption too. Yet, God’s purpose was not derailed. Through the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, a new Israel, God’s reconciling work was finally accomplished—one with both vertical and horizontal dimensions.

While we may rightly cherish the vertical dimension of our own reconciliation to God, the horizontal aspects of God’s reconciling work are no less glorious. In Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia, we read Paul working out the Gospel’s horizontal implications. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:28-29). Francis Schaeffer puts a fine point on Paul’s insight,

"Every single generation should be able to look to the Church of that generation and see an exhibition of a supernaturally restored relationship, not just between the individual and God, though that is first; not just between the individual and himself, though that is crucial; but between person and person in the Church."

Indeed, the Gospel envisions and requires that both Christians and churches become ambassadors of reconciliation among the races.

For this reason, it is saddening to learn that some of those who founded the Presbyterian Church in America (both churches and church leaders) did not zealously promote this corporate vision of Gospel reconciliation when the PCA began in 1973. Instead, blinded by the darkness of the age, they resisted the integration of their churches during the 1960s and promoted policies that were unjust to African-Americans and thereby compromised their fidelity to the Gospel.

What is more, the idea that the Gospel requires God’s people to pursue a racially reconciling mission is not patently accepted by all current members within the PCA. Recently I participated in a small group of pastors and elders where it was suggested by a participant that racial reconciliation has nothing to do with the Gospel. While that may be shocking, it simply another reminder that the work of God’s Kingdom and his reconciling grace is not yet complete.

In fact, we can go farther. Racism is not simply a sin committed by some in the past. Nor is it simply a sin committed by others in the present. Tragically, it is a sin in which we all participate. Perhaps not blatantly, but more subtly, we are all influenced by racial attitudes that in turn affect our behavior and compromise our Gospel witness. If the apostle Peter could fail in this area, when under the pressure of those who thought his eating with Gentiles was impure (cf. Gal. 2:11-21), could not we also fail?

When set against God’s trajectory of Gospel reconciliation, these revelations about the PCA’s past and our entire culture’s ongoing struggle for racial reconciliation make the action of the 44th General Assembly taken this summer in Mobile truly significant. The overture that the General Approved states:

Pursuing Racial Reconciliation and the Advance of the Gospel

Be it resolved, that the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations; and the failure to live out the gospel imperative that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10); and

Be it further resolved, that this General Assembly does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of past failures to love brothers and sisters from minority cultures in accordance with what the Gospel requires, as well as failures to lovingly confront our brothers and sisters concerning racial sins and personal bigotry, and failing to “learn to do good, seek justice and correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:17); and

Be it further resolved, that this General Assembly praises and recommits itself to the gospel task of racial reconciliation, diligently seeking effective courses of action to further that goal, with humility, sincerity and zeal, for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel; and

Be it further resolved, that the General Assembly urges the congregations and presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America to make this resolution known to their members in order that they may prayerfully confess their own racial sins as led by the Spirit and strive towards racial reconciliation for the advancement of the gospel, the love of Christ, and the glory of God; and

Be it further resolved, that the 44th General Assembly call the attention of churches and presbyteries to the pastoral letter1 contained in Overture 55 as an example of how a presbytery might provide shepherding leadership for its churches toward racial reconciliation; and

Be it finally resolved, that the 44th General Assembly remind the churches and presbyteries of the PCA that BCO 31-2 and 38-1 provide potent and readily available means for dealing with ones who have sinned or continue to sin in these areas.

It’s important to remember, as the overture outlines, this action is not an endpoint, but a beginning. Though past actions are addressed, the overture is as much about our collective commitment to changing the future. For this reason, the South Texas Presbytery, of which Redeemer is a member, has formed a committee on racial reconciliation that seeks to respond to the advice given in the overture and better understand how we as a presbytery can promote God’s vision of reconciliation and seek justice among the races.

Similarly, the Session of the Redeemer PCA is exploring the specific implications for our congregation and how we might better steward God’s vision of His coming New City where all peoples and all colors of peoples find rest, justice and community in the Savior of sinners. So stay tuned!

If you want to read further on the issue of Pursuing the Gospel & Racial Reconciliation, please consult the new work, Heal Us, Emmanuel, Heal Us, Emmanuel which has several contributions by pastors in the PCA.

 



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